Alzheimer’s Disease: Getting Help From a Naturopathic Doctor
By Rahim Habib, Naturopathic Doctor
By the time the ‘dementia’ diagnosis comes, including the more and more common “Alzheimer’s” form of dementia, families are already deeply frustrated, tired, and often fearful of the future. However, early treatment leads to the best results, so taking quick and comprehensive action is very important. By incorporating the help of a naturopathic doctor, useful adjunctive treatments can improve the mental health status and behaviour typical of those who suffer from Alzheimer’s Disease, and help slow the disease process. As for the caregiver, they need not suffer in silence, as they often withdraw to handle everything on their own – there are useful supports that naturopathic medicine can offer.
Common medical treatments for people with Alzheimer’s Disease involve medications to try and slow down the progress of the disease, and also include medications to help with depression, sleeplessness, agitation and other behavioural problems; as well as referrals to day programs at local institutions. Useful naturopathic medicines and approaches can be additionally helpful for the patient with Alzheimer’s Disease, and also for the neglected family caregivers.
Naturopathic Treatments to Help Slow Alzheimer’s Disease
Naturopathic Dietary Changes
One of the observations in seeing who tends to be more susceptible to Alzheimer’s disease, it is people who have higher levels of insulin in their blood (ie, people with diabetes and pre-diabetes), high LDL cholesterol, and those who have lower levels of protective antioxidant nutrients in their blood. So the foods a patient with Alzheimer’s Disease should eat are those that would be good for someone with diabetes and or heart disease. One example is a Mediterranean style of eating: lots of vegetables and fruit, beans, fish, nuts, and seeds. Another approach is to avoid foods that tend to raise the blood sugar level too fast, so following a diet called a “low glycemic-load diet” can be helpful. Reducing sweet foods, and ensuring sufficient healthy fats (such as fish oil and flaxseed oil) is also important. Foods specifically high in antioxidants include berries, red beans, vibrant coloured vegetables, and many spices such as cardamom and turmeric. Promising research from Thailand in the 2011 British Journal of Nutrition also shows that young coconut juice may help women in particular. Combining exercise and stress-reduction also goes a long way to help balance stress hormones and insulin levels.
Therapeutic Levels of Antioxidants & Other Nutrients
‘Free radicals’ are waste products that our cells make in the process of making energy for our body. They also come from external sources like chemicals in our environment and pharmaceuticals. At some point, they can become toxic to our nerves and actually damage them, reducing their ability to function. Antioxidants help to neutralize these damaging free radicals. There are many ways to get higher antioxidants from what we get from our diet, however, when faced with progressive disease such as Alzheimer’s, higher and quicker absorbing antioxidants can be very helpful. For instance, studies have shown that high supplemental doses of the antioxidants vitamin E, and lipoic acid, can help significantly delay the Alzheimer’s disease process. However, 2010 research conducted at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden has shown that even better results can be had when specific forms of vitamin E are used.
Antioxidants tend to work best as a team, so combining the right ones can get even better results. For example, in a U.C.L.A. study, published in 2009 in The Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, the research team found that by giving a combination of an activated form of vitamin D3 with particular extracts from turmeric (both have antioxidant effects) helped clear the amyloid neural plaque found in patients with Alzheimer’s disease. Other antioxidants and herbal extracts to consider include vitamin C, ginkgo, huperzine, sage, lemon balm, etc.).
Addressing Neurotoxicity – Eg: Toxic Metals
When it comes to toxicity, we all carry a load in our world today, particularly with spreading industrialization and technological advances. Some of these toxins are especially damaging to the nerves. One example is the theory that particular metals (eg: mercury, cadmium, iron, copper, aluminum) are involved in the development of Alzheimer’s Disease. In the 2010 German review study conducted at the Department of Environmental and Integrative Medicine, researchers concluded that mercury may play a role in the development of Alzheimer’s Disease, as it is found in the autopsy’s of some people with Alzheimer’s Disease. They also found that subjecting animals to mercury leads to the Alzheimer’s-type of brain plaque formation. There is a likely role that neurotoxicity has to play in Alzheimer’s Disease. For this reason, a naturopathic evaluation of toxic metal status is important, and treatments to bind and rid these toxins is a rational approach to treating these patients.
Most caregivers, spouses and children in particular, often feel they have to do all the support alone. It is difficult to ask for help, yet in most cases at some point, this is necessary. Support can come in the form of day programs for the patient to attend. Support can also be family and friends helping with errands, cooking, etc. One-on-one or group stress management programs are helpful to learn ways to handle stress, to cope with the workload, and to get perspective of the situation.
I have found that acupuncture, breathing exercises, correcting stress-induced nutrient deficiencies, counseling, and herbal extracts that support the nervous system can all benefit the caregiver. There is support out there, and it is important to get support before you yourself run out of energy to care for your loved one and yourself.
Rahim Habib is a registered naturopathic doctor who has a general family practice, with a special interest in helping patients comprehensively detoxify their bodies for preventative and therapeutic benefit. He also has a special interest in children’s learning and behavioural health, and chronic conditions in adults. He is the director of the Four Seasons Naturopathic Clinic for Detoxification and Healing and can be reached at 905-597-7201 or www.FamilyNaturopath.ca.